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20-lent

Lent, springtime and a Church renewed

The RCIA is just one of the sings of a Church that is alive and constantly being renewed with life, By Fr Jamie McMorrin

I love Lent. It seems strange to say it, since we’re perhaps used to thinking of Lent as a rather dreary time of delayed gratification and self-imposed misery.

But I love it, not because, like Fr Ted’s Mrs Doyle, ‘maybe I like the misery!’ but because I know how much I need it, more and more every year.

I remember once hearing our fallen human nature compared to a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel: basically good, but inclined to go off course and crash into things if we don’t keep an eye on it.

Lent is a time to get back on course. As Fr Michael reminded us last week, Lent is a time of conversion: a time of turning our hearts back to the Lord Jesus and, so to speak, of turning the shopping trolleys of our lives back in the right direction!

In that sense, we’re all converts, because conversion is not a once in a lifetime event, but a daily decision.

But Lent is also, historically, a privileged time for conversion in the other sense: an intense period of preparation for those who will be Baptised and enter into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil.

I had a chance to meet some of them, now officially known as ‘catechumens’ and ‘candidates,’ when they came to the Cathedral for the Rite of Election on the first Sunday of Lent.

I wasn’t the only one who was moved when the monsignor invited those who wished to enter the Church at Easter to stand: the effect was something like a liturgical flash-mob, as a huge crowd of people, dotted all around the packed Cathedral, rose in response.

I was delighted to recognise some of the Cathedral regulars, and some people I had known from my previous parishes. But there were many others, from all across the archdiocese whose stories I didn’t know.

But I’m sure that each of them could describe their own, quite unique experience of how the Lord had touched their life and led them to this moment of decision.

The clerical wags who say that RCIA stands for ‘Roman Catholics In Agony’ must have had a different experience to mine.

It actually stands for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and was one of the fruits of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, based on the writings of the Church Fathers and the practices of the early Christian centuries.

In my previous parish, I became a part of a well-established RCIA team who, every year, helped a sizeable number of people to enter into full communion with the Church.

The classes were taught by well-qualified lay catechists, and each enquirer was encouraged to nominate a sponsor who would accompany them to the meetings and to Sunday Mass, and who would eventually stand by their side as they received the Sacraments.

My experience was that the sponsors often learned almost as much as those they were accompanying, and I know I benefitted greatly from the questions, reflections and experiences that arose from the weekly group discussions.

These encounters, and many others in less formal settings, are reminders to me that the Church, like her Divine Master, is not dead. The Church is alive and is being constantly renewed with new life. Every Lent, we see signs that Aslan is on the move, transforming winter into a springtime of new growth.

The word Lent actually comes from the Old English word for ‘springtime.’ It comes, in this part of the world, at the time of year when we begin to see bare branches and empty fields beginning to flower and frolic with new life once more.

St Pope John Paul II, in 1990, prophesied that ‘as the third millennium of the redemption draws near, God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity, and we can already see its first signs.’ He later added, in words that seem no less apt in 2019, that ‘the tears of this century have prepared the ground’ for this growth.

Who knows what this ‘springtime’ will look like and when God’s providence will bring it to fruition.

He, unlike us with our own projects and plans, is very patient. But I think, in the end, it will probably look a lot like Lent.

It will require conversion— from all of us! It will surely demand changes, big and small, in the way we live; saying ‘no’ to ourselves, so as to be able to say ‘yes’ to God and to others. It definitely won’t happen without a lot of prayer.

Whatever happens, here’s hoping that this Lent, this little ‘springtime’ in our dioceses, in our parishes and in our own souls, will, in the Lord’s time, bear the good fruits of growth in holiness, zeal for mission and an increase in new life.

Lent: what’s not to love?

 

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